‘Wolf Pack,’ Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Return To The Genre, Is Flashy And Gory, But Lacks Bite: TV Review

Before a deep dive into Paramount+’s latest supernatural teen drama “Wolf Pack,” a little cleansing is in order. “Wolf Pack” is the brainchild of Jeff Davis, who also loosely adapted “Teen Wolf” (from the old Michael J. Fox movie) into a six-season drama, for Paramount’s MTV. But “Wolf Pack,” built on Edo van Belkom’s novel, is not a “Teen Wolf” spin-off, and it doesn’t take place in the same universe. But it’s about werewolves, and it’s coming out on the heels of the new climactic movie “Teen Wolf.” So that settles it.

That can make Davis’s latest project a little confusing, but it’s also a pretty smart strategy to follow up your hit series with a show that’s so similar that audiences can’t resist its supernatural pull. Davis has basically cornered the teen drama market for people who were left angry that Bella chose Edward over Jacob for longer than Jacob. And those fans will probably devour “Wolf Pack” in one bite and be hungry for more. But unfortunately, the show’s world-building isn’t any more proficient right off the bat than “Teen Wolf,” which may limit the show’s scope to card-carrying werewolves.

The “package” takes shape in a postcard-perfect coastal California town. A pair of telegenic teens, Everett (Armani Jackson) and Blake (Bella Shepard), share a classic cute encounter while their school bus is idling in traffic. He’s a suave if gangly boy, while she’s a lone wolf so into individualism she doesn’t carry a smartphone. Bella’s off-the-grid lifestyle becomes inconvenient when a sudden wildfire rages through the area and she’s the only one who can’t make a call. The fire sets off a frenzied stampede of forest dwellers across the road as the fire progresses. Panic arises naturally, and in the midst of all the confusion, something sinks its teeth into both Everett and Bella.

Their respective bites have all the expected side effects of the genre. Damage heals at a disturbing rate, a core of lean muscle appears out of nowhere, and a lingering skin condition disappears in a matter of hours. There’s also a sudden kinship they’ve never experienced before, a recognition that even though they don’t know what’s happening to them yet, only the two of them, working together, can figure it out.

Meanwhile, Harlan (Tyler Lawrence Gray) and Luna (Chloe Rose Robinson), a pair of siblings who attend Everett and Bella’s school, search for their missing father. They are seasoned werewolves, at least in comparison to their recently crazed classmates, and they are suspicious of the wildfire, which bears more than a passing resemblance to a previous fire that culminated in their bite. The two stories quickly intersect, with an uneasy alliance formed between Everett and Bella (still sympathetic to their circumstances) and the siblings, who are justifiably afraid to hug strangers.

The pilot is entertaining enough despite being a color-by-numbers origin story that resembles a clunky prologue, an unpleasant but unavoidable cost of entry. It’s certainly flashier and gorier than expected, particularly during the forest fire sequence, in which motorists are trampled and gored by all manner of beasts. (The CGI is inconsistent and often shabby, as is often the case with effects-heavy shows that have basic cable budgets.) There’s a deliberate effort to take advantage of a streaming platform’s permissive content standards, judging by the frequency and acrimony. of the bad language That’s par for the course for teen drama in this post-“Euphoria” world, but “Wolf Pack” feels especially desperate in its efforts to be edgy for its target audience.

The two episodes screened for critics make it clear why Davis was so tempted to go further with violence and prickly language, since the underlying show lacks a voice. The performances by the younger actors are serviceable for the most part, though Shepard has a way of falling off screen. The biggest selling point of “Wolf Pack” is Sarah Michelle Gellar’s return to a supernatural teen drama, but even her acting is pale and lacking in impact. Perhaps that’s because Gellar plays Kristin Ramsey, a very ordinary arson investigator who suspects that one of the Monster High students set the fateful wildfire. Her most potent power seems to be her ability to locate multiple points of origin, so having the ex Buffy Summers around is a bummer.

There are signs of a more interesting spectacle that flicker throughout “Wolf Pack”, such as when Rodrigo Garcia appears intermittently to hint at a larger story that seems to be going awry. Hopefully more of that show will emerge, perhaps around a full moon, but until then, “Wolf Pack” is all growl and no bite.

“Wolf Pack” premieres Thursday, January 26 on Paramount+.

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